Anthony's Reviews > Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman

Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie
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's review
May 22, 2012

really liked it
Read from May 22 to June 03, 2012

This was a biography of a monarch that I knew very little about, except for all the rumors about her sexual escapades. Written by Robert K. Massie, who is a Pulitzer Prize winning author of "Peter the Great", "Nicholas and Alexdandra" and "The Romanovs", this is a highly readable story of the German princess, Sophia, who was asked to come to Russia at the age of fourteen, and rose to become one of the most fascinating and powerful women in human history.

In this entertaining biography, and history lesson, Massie writes of Catherine's rise to power and the impact her family, friends, ministers, generals, enemies and lovers had on her. Relying on Catherine's actual memoirs and her later letters to her friends and ministers, Massie paints a vivid picture of European history, specifically, eastern European history, in the 18th Century. His descriptions of Catherine are fair and he clearly describes the positive changes she brought to Russia during her reign, as well as the negative consequences of some of her decisions. As Empress of Russia, she interacted with all of the famous figures of her time, including Frederick the Great of Prussia, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, Marie Antoinette, and what was surprising to read about, John Paul Jones, the Founder of the American Navy.

There were two highly surprising facts that I learned from this book that I never knew before. One is that she had indeed married one of her lovers, the famous Gregory Potemkin. While it cannot be verified, and there is no public record of a marriage having taken place, she constantly refers to him as her "husband" in her letters to him and to her friends.

The second quite surprising fact is that during the summer of 1775, England's King George III, requested the "rental" of 20,000 Russian troops to put down the rebellion in America. Catherine was quite sympathetic to George III, and would have lent him her troops, if not for the fact that she anticipated that she would soon be at war with the Ottoman Empire of Turkey and she believed that she would need those 20,000 troops on her southern border. As it turns out, she was correct. But it does cause one to wonder how the course of history might have changed had the British also had 20,000 Russian troops helping them put down the American revolution.

While this book is long, it is a joy to read and for a change of pace to non-fiction, I highly recommend this book.
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